First Nations in Victoria Harbour
The area known as the City of Victoria and surrounding region, waterways and islands were occupied by the Lekwungen people—known today as the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations. They had seasonal and year-round village sites around the Victoria harbour. The main evidence of these sites comes in the form of archaeological finds of shellmiddens or refuse heaps.
Their ancestors lived in large cedar houses, in extended family groups that were self-governing. All household groups claimed specific living areas and areas where they could hunt, fish, and collect plants.
A Social Gathering Place
The Old Songhees Reserve along the waterfront was occupied as a village and Reserve from 1844 until 1911 when it was moved to Esquimalt harbour. Both the Lekwungen and thousands of First Nation visitors from Alaska to Puget Sound came to Victoria to trade and participate in potlatch ceremonies that involved the redistribution of goods.
The Lekwungen showed artistic skills in making a wide variety of household equipment and tools, such as wooden boxes, string made from stinging nettle and kelp, weaving looms and spindle whorls, bark beaters and bone needles. Clothing was woven from the wool of dogs, fine cedar bark, and animal skins.
Signs of Lekwungen
Established in 2008, the Signs of Lekwungen is an interpretive walkway along the Inner Harbour and surrounding areas that honours the art, history, and culture of the Coast Salish people who have resided in the Victoria area for hundreds of years. Coast Salish artist Butch Dick designed the spindle whorls, which were originally used by Coast Salish women to spin wool. They are considered the foundation of a Coast Salish family. Seven site markers are located throughout Victoria's harbour area.